Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Chapter 10: Google Doodles

Today's post was inspired by simply opening my browser today and seeing the really cool Google Doodle about water on Mars. So here, dear reader, are some awesome Victorian era based doodles for your viewing pleasure.You can find these and more in the doodle archive. :)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 208th Birthday (6th March 2014 - UK and Ireland only) 

Ada Lovelace's 197th Birthday (10 December 2013)
175th anniversary of the Penny Black stamp (1 May 2015)

Charles Dickens 200th Birthday (7 February 2012)
Birthday of H.G. Wells (21 September 2009)
Bram Stoker's 165th Birthday (8 November 2012)

Edvard  Grieg's 172th Birthday (15th June 2015 - Scandinavia only) 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Chapter 9: Snakes and Ladders

Alan Moore is widely recognized as one of the best writers working in the medium of comics. Personally I have mixed feelings about his work, I'm not a fan of his celebrated Wacthmen superhero graphic novel (art by Dave Gibbons) but think From Hell (art by Eddie Campbell), his graphic novel dealing with the Jack the Ripper murders to be one of my favourite works of fiction. I will be covering From Hell at some point in the future but today I want to look at a lesser known work of his that deals with the Pre-Raphaelites: Snakes and Ladders. 

Unlike his more famous works, Snakes & Ladders did not start life as as a comic but rather a spoken word performance. The death and disinterment of model, poet and artist Lizzie Siddal is connected with that of Oliver Cromwell along with the life and writing of Welsh author, Arthur Machen. Along with Siddal, her husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his friends William Morris, Edward Brune-Jones and John Ruskin also appear. One of notable and interesting aspects of much of Moore's work is connecting seemingly unconnected events and personalities from history and he succeeds here by creating a wonderfully dark and mysterious work. This is added by Moore's reading (he has the perfect voice) and the music by Tim Perkins       

When the performance was made available on CD in 2003, images of Siddal, Rossetti, Morris, Brune-Jones and Ruskin featured in the liner-notes.

There is also a comics adaptation (published in 2001) of the performance with art by Eddie Campbell that mixes the artist's excellent likenesses of the real life characters and use of existing art.  

You can find both the recording and the comic on archive.org (all images taken from the scans found there), however, those wishing to buy copies of the CD can comic can find them at:

CD: Amazon US | Amazon UK
Comic: Amazon US | Amazon UK  

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Chapter 8 - "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"

In 2012 the BBC put out an wonderful advert for their BBC 2 television station containing a Cento composed by Alison Chisolm and narrated by Peter Capaldi. In this poetic mash up she used lines from Victorian area poets: Henry Wadsworth LongfellowArthur O’Shaughnessy, Walter Savage Landor and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Along with John KeatsPercy Bysshe ShelleyJames Elroy Flecker and Chisoln herself)

If you are wondering who wrote what, this blog should help. ;)

But the final line "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". from Tennyson's 'Ulysses' was having quite the year in 2012. Not only was it memorably used in Skyfall but it was also the motto of the 2012 London Olympics.   

Photo from the Guardian

Friday, 25 September 2015

Chapter 7: Kate Beaton

Photo from Drawn and Quaterly
I am a huge fan of Canadian cartoonist Kate Beaton and her excellent Hark, a vagrant webcomic especially when she deals with Victorian subjects. Here are just a few of her strips to do with people from that period that anyone with even a passing interest in Victoriana should get a good giggle out of. (Lady of Shallot is one of my favourite Tennyson parodies ever) ;)

There are others so it is well worth going through her archives and even reading some of her non-Victorian work. 

There are also books:

Hark! A Vagrant Amazon US | Amazon UK
Step Aside Pops Amazon US | Amazon UK

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Chapter 6: Come away, O human child!

W.B Yeats is usually seen as a early 20th century poet but my favourite of his poems The Stolen Child was published in 1889. I love it's beautiful and heartbreaking tale of the taking of a child by faeries, the final stanza in particular brings me to tears. And much like my experiences disovering Tennyson, I first discovered the poem by way of music.

There have been many musical versions of the poem, however the first one that I heard and fell in love with was recorded by The Waterboys (which spoken word sections by Tomás Mac Eoin) for their 1988 record album Fisherman's Blues. I really think it captures the heartbreaking otherworldliness of the poem with Mike Scott's haunting vocals matching up perfectly to Mac Eoin's reading of the text.

I also love Loreena McKennitt's version from her 1985 album Elemental

More recently my brother played me a version by British folk act Merrymouth from their 2012 debut album witch is also extremely good.

I know that there are other song versions of the poem but these are the three I'm most familiar with so sorry if I missed out anything.

The Waterboys - Fisherman Blues Amazon US | Amazon UK
Loreena McKennitt - Elemental Amazon US | Amazon UK 
Merrymouth -  Simon Fowler's Merrymouth Amazon US | Amazon UK

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Chapter 5: 1864

Yesterday I looked at one under-represented aspect of the 19th Century in English speaking nations: Japanese history and today I will look at another; The Second Schleswig War.

Earlier this year the 2014 Danish drama 1864 was screened on BBC 4. As a big fan of Scandinavian film and television I was really excited. After all it was set in the Victorian period and stared many of my favourite Danish actors (PilouAsbæk, Nicolas Bro, Søren Malling and Sidse Babett Knudsen in particular). I was not disappointed. Beautifully writen and acted it has some wonderful highs and some brutal lows (the Prussian storming of Dybbøl is extremely difficult to watch).

I knew very little about the war coming into watching the series, but it made me want to look into it more. The reasons behind the war are complex. As British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (played by James Fox here) put it:  “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.". The ending of the war would have a huge impact on 19th and 20th century history, however. The Prussian victory gave Otto von Bismarck (Rainer Bock in the series) the confidence to declare war on the Austrian Empire two years later, the resulting defeat of Austria giving Prussia total infulence over the German Confederation. Then of course a the same confidence resulted in a German victory over France in 1871 bringing about the unification of the country and leading, in part, to the Great War of 1914-18. The Schleswig War may be mostly forgotten but it did have an impact.

The series is, however, mostly shown from the Danish POV and doesn’t hold back from showing the horrors the vastly outnumbered and unprepared army went through. Alongside this we see the insanity of the politicians in Copenhagen, who believing they could win the war refused to withdraw from Dybbøl and ensured the bloodbath when the Prussians finally stormed the fortifications (Bro’s performance as the Danish Prime minister Monrad is a highlight of the series). Amid the horrors of war there are stories of love, jealously and personal tragedy. For us literature geeks, Hans Christian Andersen makes a cameo in a couple of episodes. I cannot recommend this series enough. 

1864: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Monday, 21 September 2015

Chapter 4: Japanese Clockwork

I finished reading The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley last night. It is an excellent Victorian based magical realist/clockpunk tale that touches on the Fenian bombing campagin of the 1880s, LGBT themes and challenging gender norms.

What really intrested me, however, was the use of Japan and the Japanese in the story. In western socities we tend to focus on the Euro-American history of the 19th Century, which is a shame as the end of the Edo period and begining of the Meji of the country are fascinating with the transition from a medieval feudal society to a modern one. Pulley symbolizes this period of change with flashbacks to the buying of a Samurai castle by the state, represented by future prime minster Ito Hirobumi.

Ito Hirobumi (photo from wikipedia)

Another plot thread involves the reserach undertaken by Gilbert and Sullivan (who both appear as characters) for their 1885 opera The Mikado.

Gilbert and Sullivan (Photo from http://arts.louisiana.edu)

This leads the reader into a world that I was totally unaware of: the mock Japanese Village bulit in London for an exhibition of the culture of the country in the 1880s. In fact, because of my lack of knowelge of the exhibition, when it was first encountred in the novel I belived that the characters had been magically transported to Japan.

I don't want to get too much into the plot as I believe this is a novel that needs to be read without too many spoilers. But I do believe that beneath it's magical realism and clockwork octopuses lies an excellent introduction to Japan and the Japanese in the 19th Century. It works on both levels, however, and comes with a strong recomendation from me.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Chapter 3: The Doctor & The Queen

Doctor Who returned to our screens last night so this is a nice opportunity to talk about some of the long running show’s trips to the Victorian Period. 

I was born in 1982 and grew up with the final few years of the classic series. While I remember some of the Colin Baker years I really became a fan when Sylvester McCoy took over in 1987 (and he remains my Doctor). One of the stories that stuck with me for the rest of my life was the 1883 based Ghost Light (1989) writen by Marc Platt.

It is an incredibllly complex tale of fear and evolutiuon set in a gothic house under the control of an alien intelligence. The performances are excellent and the sets and costumes are beautiful by the standards of the 1980s. I would say this is one of the stories that people who only know the post 2005 series should check out. 

This was not the Doctor's first trip to the period. Patrick Troughton battled the Victorian inventers of a time machine who had teamed up with his deadliest foes in 1967s (now sadly missing) The Evil of the Daleks. Tom Baker doned Sherlock Holmes' Dearstalker and faced another time traveling threat on the streets of post Jack the Ripper London in 1977's The Talons of Weng-Chiang. An excellent story that introducted the characters of Jago & Litefoot who would go on to have an equeally excellent series of audio plays from Big Finish.

And, of course, the Doctor has met some of the more prominent figers of the age. 

In 1985's Timelash, Colin Baker's version of the Time Lord met a young H.G. Wells (played by David Chandler) taking him into the future and inspiring the writing of The Time Machine.

Picture from the Tardis Data Core

When the series was rebooted in 2005, Christopher Eccleston hunted ghosts with the ade of Charles Dickens (played by the wounderful Simon Callow) in the Mark Gatiss (One of my favourite Writers of Who) penned The Unquiet Dead.

A year later, the then showrunner, Russell T Davies had David Tennent meet Queen Victoria (Pauline Collins) in the Warewolf themed Tooth and Claw, a title that is, of course, taken from Tennyson's 1850 poem In Memoriam A.H.H.

Both Matt Smith and the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, would later go on to have more adventures set in the period with the absolutely wonderful Paternoster Gang. I may return to Doctor Who in the future to fully cover some of these adventures. 

But I hope the tradtion of Victoriana in the series continues because there are many intresting events that the Time Lord could visit and people he could meet.

Ghost Light - Amazon US | Amazon UK
The Evil of the Daleks (Audio) - Amazon US | Amazon UK
The Talons of Weng-Chiang - Amazon US | Amazon UK
Timelash - Amazon US | Amazon UK
Doctor Who Series 1 (2005) - Amazon US | Amazon UK
Doctor Who Series 2 (2006) - Amazon US | Amazon UK